Kansas City guitarist Beau Bledsoe first met New York-based violinist and vocalist Mireya Ramos fifteen years ago at her birthday party. A friend of his was visiting from out of town and invited Bledsoe to tag along to the party. That’s when Bledsoe first heard Ramos play. “She’s an incredible artist,” Bledsoe says.
Today, Latin Grammy-winner Ramos is best known as the co-founder of Flor de Toloache, NYC’s only all-woman mariachi. But on top of the rise of Flor de Toloache, the Afro-Latina artist’s solo career has blossomed over the past several years.
Originally from Arkansas, Bledsoe has been a member of KC’s music scene for over two decades and is well-versed in an array of genres, including jazz, classical and Americana. When Bledsoe founded Ensemble Ibérica in 2013, Ramos quickly became one of the ensemble’s first guest artists, marking the beginning of a powerful collaboration. The acclaimed Kansas City ensemble has traveled the globe––and even performed at Carnegie Hall this past spring––performing music from Spain, Portugal and the colonial Americas.
Year after year, Bledsoe continued to bring Ramos to KC for the ensemble’s yearly program highlighting Mexican music.
“Kansas City has become a second home,” Ramos says.
In 2016, a handful of Ensemble Ibérica members decided to form a honky-tonk band called The Poor Choices. Described by Bledsoe as his “longest-running project just for fun,” the band has a monthly gig at the West Bottom’s The Ship every fourth Tuesday.
The crossover band continued its collaboration with Ramos, melding traditional Mexican rancheras with the backing of a six-piece, twangy honky-tonk band.
“It seems like a far leap to a lot of people, but ranchera and country music have a thread historically between Mexico and the United States, so it’s really easy to put together,” Bledsoe says.
Though cross-cultural, the stories conveyed in both genres go beyond borders, often centered around love, infidelity and heartbreak.
“A lot of the melodies and rhythms are the same because they have very similar influences,” Ramos says.
That pairing was a hit among audiences at The Ship, and Ramos knew it needed to be recorded.
Soon after, Ramos, along with Bledsoe and the rest of The Poor Choices, began laying down tracks in the studio.
This past September, Mireya Ramos and The Poor Choices released Sin Fronteras, which is Ramos’ sophomore album released under her own name. Representative of KC’s sweeping musical landscape, the album is a seamless blend of ranchera and honky-tonk sprinkled with hints of R&B, jazz, soul and more.
“I wanted Sin Fronteras to be a collaborative project with all of the artists that I know in Kansas City that I’ve been able to collaborate with, hang out and really bond with,” Ramos says. “They’ve become like family to me, so I wanted this to be a very community-based project.”
The album lineup is nearly a village, featuring over 25 musicians from KC, Mexico and beyond.
Ramos’ transcendent arrangement of “I Fall to Pieces”––a classic popularized by Patsy Cline––features beloved KC harpist and vocalist Calvin Arsenia and trumpeter Keyon Harrold, an artist originally from St. Louis with robust recording credits that include Beyoncé and JAY-Z. Weaving together Ramos’ soaring and stirring vocals and violin playing with Arsenia’s classical technique and Harrold’s buttery tone, the rendition breathes new life into a heavily covered standard.
“Usually you think of Patsy Cline or another country singer singing that song, not three Black people collaborating on a very well-known classic,” Ramos says. ”I wanted to flip that and make it our own. It’s very different, but the sentiment of the story is still there.”
This winter, Ramos and The Poor Choices––joined by Grammy-winning Los Texmaniacs––are prepared to hit the road to tour the album throughout historic dance halls in Texas, with additional performances in Mérida, Mexico. Accompanying them will be a film crew and KC’s own Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Dan White to document the cross-cultural project.
“Music has always been a cultural bridge throughout the history of humanity,” Ramos says. “It’s a universal language. That’s what this album symbolizes.”
LISTEN: Sin Fronteras by Mireya Ramos and The Poor Choices is available on all streaming platforms.